Chapter 1


Darren sighed as he made the ODN connection to the computer and started the file transfer. The job was easy enough really. Break in, grab the files off the computer, delete the source, and drop the virus to wipe out the rest of the system. Root the whole thing and overwrite the master boot records on the storage drives. It was standard smash-and-grab fare with minimal danger and no resistance.

The target, a high level officer within the same company Darren worked for as a Pincher, had grabbed data to hold over someone else as blackmail material or carve out their own little empire within the company. Like so many before, they’d been found out and Darren had been sent in to retrieve what they had stolen. He knew it was customary to send out a Hitter next, if it hadn’t been done already, to take care of the actual person, but Darren had long ago decided not to think about that part of the business world.

He was an industrial thief. A good one. Anything else his employer did was entirely their business and not for him to lose any sleep over. People died and went missing all the time, many of them due to corporate entanglements within their own organizations. Which is why he liked being a thief. He had to rely only on himself to get things done and he never put his life in the hands of another person. He made it a personal goal to never get involved in politics or corporate ladder climbing.

A subtle tone from the computer embedded in his skull alerted him that the file copy was complete and he focused his attention back on the computer in front of him. Waving his hand in the air, he pulled up a holographic interface and navigated the storage drive inside his skull, locating a particularly nasty fire-and-forget virus he’d purchased from a hacker down near the core of the Venus Station a while back. Dropping the virus into the target’s computer, he popped the ODN cable out of the head jack behind his right ear, executing the program and smirking as the computer’s display matrix shuddered and sprayed a wash of color all over the office in a dazzling display of light before going dark.

“And that, is all I have to say about that,” he whispered, pushing himself up out of the chair as he coiled up the cable and tucked it into a pocket.

Making his way to the office door, he shut off the lights and keyed the sliding panel open to slip out into the enveloping blackness of his target’s domicile. In short order, he was out the front door, stopping only to verify the pulse of the guard he’d waylaid on his way in was still strong.

He made it nearly a hundred yards from the home before the alarms started going off and the sounds of pursuit became evident. Taking a moment to glance around a corner, he saw three burly men heading his direction, weapons drawn and what looked like thermal head gear or cybernetic eyes in use to track his body heat.

“Figures,” he mumbled as he slid his bastón from their sheath across his back and moved the metal alloy sticks into his hands.

Taking cover behind a wall, he waited until the sound of their approach was on top of him before throwing himself into a cartwheel. As his feet arced through the air, the trio came into view, upside down from his perspective, mild surprise showing on their faces. His move was the unexpected part of the equation and that was exactly what he was counting on to make good his escape with a minimum of hassle and no loss of life.

His shin slammed into the leading thug’s forearm, dislodging his firearm and sending it skittering across the ground at their feet. They started to react as his feet found purchase on the ground once more and he brought his fighting sticks to bear on the second thug’s weapon, sending it into a high, spiraling arc that had it landing a dozen feet away with a clatter of metal on metal.

Turning himself around with his back to the third man, he hooked his bastón around the necks of the disarmed men, pinching them between his fighting sticks and his forearms, then threw himself into a foreword roll, dragging them both forward with him. The sudden change in height as he tucked into his roll meant the shot fired by the third thug missed him, passing through the air where his head had been a fraction of a second earlier.

From the ground, he clubbed the two prone figures before kicking up into a one-handed hand-spring as a second frangible bullet shattered on the metal deck where he had just been. Momentum allowed him to swing one foot forward to kick the third guy in the face and carried his weight all the way through until he found his feet once more, this time facing the final assailant.

To his credit, the man recovered quickly from the kick to his face. Aiming his weapon at Darren once more, he fired another shot that Darren avoided by twisting and ducking inside the shooter’s line of fire. Still, the bullet passed through the jacket between Darren’s body and inner arm, tearing a hole in the garment.

“Dammit! I just bought that!” Darren grumbled as he pushed off the ground, hunching his back and driving it into the man’s chest with his genetically-enhanced legs. The effort picked them both up off the ground. As they arced through the air, Darren tucked his legs up over his head, rolling over backwards so that when they landed, his feet were on either side of the man’s head, looking down into the guy’s eyes as they darted about, searching for options.

“Now I have to go shopping, and I hate going anywhere near the shipyards and the central shaft.” To punctuate his statement and demonstrate his displeasure, he brought down his right hand, fist still clenched around the alloy bastón, and punched the man in the head, knocking him unconscious.

“I hate shopping,” he grunted, sliding his bastón home in their sheath as he hustled away from the scene and disappearing into the crowd of the nearest transit station.

–Next Chapter–